I’ve been watching the continued debate and hand wringing over WikiLeaks’ disclosures of classified information now for months and am sickened by the entire mess. Our national leaders and a host of pundits and attorneys from liberals to independents to conservatives have continued to moan and groan about WikiLeaks and how to prosecute Mr. Julian Assange, the ringleader of this circus.
Of course, PFC Bradley Manning, who admittedly passed some if not all of the classified material to WikiLeaks, is already in custody. All of the people who knowingly participated in the disclosure of this material must be punished.
However, I have great reservations about the manner in which this punishment will be attempted. You see, in my mind our national difficulty in developing a satisfactory course of action is a symptom of a much larger problem. Just as with terrorism, our legal system and national cultural self-image have simply not caught up to the 21st century. Many Americans, and I’d say most of our political leaders, want to believe we are still living in the last quarter of the 20th century. Unfortunately for all of us, with regard to information attacks and terrorism we aren’t.
Information operations are not new to warfare and can be found in more than one military doctrinal publication. The use of information and the technologies that support such communications must be a consideration in armed conflict, whether called information operations, information warfare, cyber war, or some other term.
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Conceptually, this is not new. Spies, scouts and traitors fill history books with their exploits in this process of learning and disclosing information held by an enemy. In wartime, these disclosures cause death, injury and changes in plans. Nations and military forces strive to protect the loss of information.
The countless words being expended tend to paint the WikiLeaks disclosures as issues of free speech. PFC Manning, who stole or failed to safeguard classified information, is guilty of a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Mr. Assange is not a U.S. citizen, yet he claims protection of his acts thanks to the United States’ right of free speech. Some media outlets claim the same protection.
All of this, however, fails to acknowledge that we are at war. Whether Mr. Assange contacted al Qaeda and offered to help or did not do so is immaterial. We are in a war. Soldiers are dying. Heck, civilians are dying and have died (American and others). Our fight against Muslim fanatics spans the globe. We’re in a world war; however, too many Americans want to worry about the next movie coming out instead of whether someone will die because Assange decided to embarrass the United States. This is nuts. Too many people are making this too hard. This nation is at war. Protecting classified information is important because people die when we fail to protect it.
We have to figure out how to separate crime for our civilian legal system to resolve and acts of war. Of course laws affect warfare, but our civilian courts are not the place to resolve such acts. Soldiers do not and should not have to worry about civilian courts when they are fighting.
We need to face up to the fact that when someone takes an action that imperils this nation or its representatives, such as soldiers and civilians who are trying to protect and serve us, then the act is now an act of warfare. Worrying about civilian criminal actions should cease. Every asset that can be used to stop the attack should be used.
WikiLeaks should have ceased to exist as a functioning enterprise already. Assange and his supporters are enemy combatants and should be treated as such.